I've wanted to write about something for a long time and I think the time has finally come to share it. It will take a few posts to get to the payoff, but I think the journey will be fun.
Beware, though: this Series may alter our perception of spiritual reality.
But if you wish to go down the rabbit hole with me, looking the word of God squarely in the face ― just remember, I warned you.
It Tares Me Apart
Our subject is Tares. Yes, those Tares: the ones Jesus talked about in His parable of the Wheat and Tares.
This is a tricky topic because Tares (as a rule) present as ― and think of themselves as ― Wheat.
I will be the first to get up from my metal folding chair in the circle at the YMCA and introduce myself: "Hello. My name is Tim. I'm a Tare."
Or am I? We're going to discover several important truths in Jesus's parable, but one of the main points He makes about the Wheat and Tares is we can't tell them apart.
I suspect we really don't believe that; that we think Jesus must not have been talking to us when He said they were indistinguishable. I mean, we're not blind, right?
So we want to find a way, deep down, to spot the tell-tale signs of a Tare. We just need to get out our magnifying glasses; there's got to be black spots or sickly-looking stalks to hint at their true identity.
And we go around, licking our thumbs, applying a sticker to those who fit our notion of what a Wheat should be, and marking those who likely are (we're all-but-certain) Tares.
Here's the rub: do we really think we are better judges of character than the angels of heaven, whom the Lord specifically enjoined from harvesting the Tares because even THEY couldn't tell them apart (D&C 86:5-6)?
But sure . . . go ahead. Let's get out our sticker books; lots of Tares out there needing stickers. During General Conference we are warned all about the Tares and how to avoid them (no small feat considering we don't know who they are).
And this is why I have put off this Series until now, because talking about Tares is like the Abbott and Costello sketch Who's On First, going around in circles, in the futile, bathtub-thumping sport we play so well in Church ― the game where we point fingers at the "Tares" out there (you know, the ones ruining society in a handbasket).
And so in this post I'm going to approach our subject circuitously.
Some truths are best comprehended using our peripheral vision. After all, focusing on the sun may burn our retinas; we'll proceed cautiously and allow our eyes adjust first.
Do you know the difference between a wild animal and a feral animal?
I used to think they were the same thing (but maybe the feral dog had rabies), so I looked them up in a dictionary:
(1) A wild animal is one that has always been free, untamed.
(2) A feral animal, though, is one that has escaped domestication.
Here's the sad part: animals that have been placed into captivity (like at the zoo) or house-trained don't thrive if you release them back into the wild. In fact, the majority of feral animals die after finding freedom.
According to the BBC, "Even a lifetime in the most humane zoo will have left animals too affected by years of sheltered existence. Captive animals seldom learn crucial survival skills . . . and [are] ill equipped for life in the wild.
"No case makes this more heartbreakingly obvious than the story of Keiko, the orca star of Free Willy (1993). A massive letter-writing campaign demanding his freedom led to Keiko being flown to Iceland in 1999 for release. Unfortunately … he never managed to integrate with a wild population, struggled to hunt, and eventually died of pneumonia in 2002."
I visited Keiko once when he was in residence at the Newport Aquarium in Oregon. It makes me wonder why he couldn't survive in the wild.
The National Geographic reported: "'Animals in captivity do not usually have the natural behaviors needed for success in the wild,' said lead author and animal behavior researcher Kristen Jule. 'Their lack of hunting skills and lack of fear towards humans are major disadvantages,' she said."
So to summarize the reason feral animals usually die:
1. They have trouble integrating with wild populations
2. They are unskilled at hunting
3. They are more vulnerable to illness based on living previously in a sheltered environment
4. They don't fear humans
So what does all this have to do with Wheat and Tares?
Despite what we've been taught all our lives, I want to suggest something that goes against the grain (pardon my pun) of our traditions.
I want to suggest that Wheat is wild.
Normally in Sunday School we're told to watch out for those wild Tares (the ones who are nonconformist); but it is actually the opposite.
This makes sense when we remember Enoch, of whom it was said:
There is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us.
And Elijah, too, was a wild guy who rode a motorcycle up to heaven. The Sirach (a canonized book of the Bible in Catholicism and the Orthodox Church) says that:
Elijah the prophet rose up like fire, and his words burned like a torch.
A "fire" symbolizes something wild and uncontrollable. Imagine a "wild fire." In ancient times they didn't have a Forestry Service. Those blazes burned and were unstoppable.
And let's not forget rough, leather-clad John the Baptist:
John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
But the all-time winner for "wild" goes to [opening envelope at the Oscars] . . . the Gentiles!
Perhaps Paul said it best, who said:
If the root is holy, so are the branches.
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root . . .
For God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature . . . into a cultivated olive tree.
(Romans 11:15-17, 23-24; NIV)
If that was confusing, Paul is saying that we (the Gentiles) are "wild."
And being "wild" is good; after all, the Lord blessed the Gentiles (2 Nephi 10:10); our wild strength is a virtue:
And because of their much strength they have hitherto brought forth, from the wild branches, good fruit.
But . . . our wild strength can also become our downfall if, and when, we begin "taking strength unto [our]selves" (Jacob 5:48).
This is why Paul said it is imperative that the Gentiles be grafted into the "cultivated olive tree." What is that?
Look out, though: Satan has a similar plan to tame the wild branches, because what the devil really wants is to domesticate the wheat with the fertilizer of carnal security.
The devil is not going to graft the wild branches into the roots of Christ's gospel. Instead, Satan's plan is to domesticate the Gentiles and their "wildness" by lulling them to sleep with religion:
For it shall come to pass in that day that the churches which are built up, and not unto the Lord, when the one shall say unto the other: Behold, I, I am the Lord’s; and the others shall say: I, I am the Lord’s; and thus shall every one say that hath built up churches.
(2 Nephi 28:3)
Are we wild or have we been captured and put in the zoo?
Are we grizzly bears stuffed into sweaters, riding a unicycle wearing a fez cap?
Have our traditions, culture, and language domesticated our faith to the point we "take strength unto ourselves?"
Domestication of Tares
I recently learned that we aren't supposed to "live the gospel" (which came as quite a shock).
But Clark Burt pointed out that the phrase "living the gospel" does not appear in scripture; and anyway, it is a non-sequitur because the gospel is not what we do but something Christ did for us.
Clark wrote, "This is an example of how tradition makes the word of God of none effect. Someone invented the phrase 'living the gospel' and it has been repeated so often from the pulpit and among ourselves that it has effectively replaced Christ's gospel."
I liked the way Clark framed these two different approaches towards the gospel (either proclaiming the good news and trusting in Christ's merits alone vs. preaching that obeying the commandments is "living the gospel"), and it perhaps reveals something about Tares.
In the next post we will look at and interpret the Parable itself. Stay tuned!